Published June 23. 2014 10:04PM Updated June 24. 2014 12:07PM
Groton – The Board of Education approved a construction plan Monday night as a way to address the needs of the town’s aging schools and to help solve the racial imbalance at Claude Chester Elementary School.
The proposed building plan would construct one new middle school for grades 6 to 8, as close as possible to Robert E. Fitch High School, and would convert Cutler and West Side middle schools into elementary schools for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Pleasant Valley, S.B. Butler and Claude Chester elementary schools would close. The three elementary schools were built more than 70 years ago.
The plan goes goes to the School Facilities Task Force to determine whether it’s feasible and how much it would cost. The proposal would then return to the school board for a final vote before going to the town council, Representative Town Meeting and a referendum for final approval.
School board Chairwoman Rita Volkmann, who cast the sole opposing vote, said she wanted the middle school to be adjacent to the high school.
But she added, “I’m happy that this is finally moving forward.”
The town was cited last month for a racial imbalance at Claude Chester, less than 10 months after moving 16 percent of its elementary school students to correct a racial imbalance at another school, Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School. The district must submit a plan to address the problem by Sept. 12 and the state Board of Education must approve that plan.
The state considers a school out of balance if the percentage of minority students there is greater or less than 25 percent of the district average. The minority student population at Claude Chester is 68.2 percent, compared to a district average of 43 percent.
At a separate meeting earlier on Monday, the school board also discussed the possibility of renovating the elementary schools and of pairing S.B. Butler with Claude Chester. If the two schools were joined, S.B. Butler would be renovated to serve students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, and Claude Chester would be renovated to serve students in grades 3 through 5.
But Superintendent Michael Graner said renovating the elementary schools alone would not address the racial imbalance or the inequity of programs in the middle schools.
“I think it’s going to be very expensive to not solve the problem,” he said.
Making S. B. Butler and Claude Chester “sister schools” would improve racial balance but would require busing children as young as 4 years old outside their neighborhoods, Graner said.